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$20-million Walton donation will boost Teach for America in L.A.

The Arkansas-based Walton Family Foundation announced Wednesday that it is donating $20 million to a nonprofit that recruits talented college graduates to teach in public schools for two years. The largest number of instructors, more than 700, is slated for Los Angeles.

The gift is a continuation of support that has totaled more than $100 million to New York City-based Teach for America over its 24 years. Walton’s cumulative contribution to TFA in Los Angeles is more than $10 million, according to the foundation.

“With this critical investment, Teach for America will be able to bring effective teachers into some of the most under-resourced classrooms in the country while simultaneously working to develop more of our talented corps members as long-term champions of educational equity and excellence,” said Matt Kramer, co-chief executive officer of Teach for America, in a statement.

Support from the Walton foundation has attracted notice because it’s associated with funding and advocacy for “school choice” efforts around the country. These include independently operated, public charter schools. The foundation also supports government-funded vouchers to subsidize the tuition of low-income students at private schools.

The foundation is funded by members of the family that founded the Walmart Corp., which has opposed unionization in its operations. Most charters are nonunion.

For its part, TFA has always cast itself as politically neutral and notes that its teachers join unions when they work in school districts with collective bargaining agreements.

The group lobbies both the federal and state governments to allow its teachers to enter schools as rated “highly qualified” under the law. That designation is important because schools with lower numbers of highly qualified instructors face possible sanctions.

The Walton foundation said the essence of its support for TFA has to do with the group’s twin core missions: to provide effective teachers where they are needed for low-income students and to develop alumni who become leaders who care about education, whether they remain in school systems or enter other fields. 

“Teach for America is doing a great job of recruiting highly talented individuals into education,” said Ed Kirby, deputy director of K-12 education reform for the foundation. “It is a fabulous talent pipeline.”

In the L.A. area, 42 TFA alums have risen to the position of principal or higher working for a school district; 60 have done so in local charter schools.

In L.A. this year, 94% of the incoming corps found jobs in charter schools, which have been expanding in number. It’s “a special value that TFA has embraced placement in charter schools,” Kirby said. Many alums, he noted, become charter school leaders: “It’s amazing when you get out into the charter school market to see the degree to which TFA alums populate the leadership throughout.”

Walton is TFA’s largest donor, but the group has a diverse funding base. The Walton donation will cover about 20% of TFA’s expenses this year in the L.A. region. Other local major donors include the Wasserman Foundation, Ahmanson Foundation and State Farm Companies Foundation.

Altogether, Walton’s donation will help recruit and train nearly 4,000 first- and second-year teachers in nine regions, including Denver; Milwaukee; Newark, N.J.; New Orleans and Washington. Three cities — Detroit; Indianapolis; and Memphis, Tenn. — are receiving direct support from Walton for the first time.

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Twitter: @howardblume | howard.blume@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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